Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Big Disconnect

PS Magazine, March/April 2010

As exhausting as it was to attend the Spokane marathon, better known as the 2010 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships, it has reaffirmed to me that the skating has never been better. I know there are people out there who will disagree with me. Sonia Bianchetti, ISU judge and referee, frequently blogs about the poor quality she sees in events that she attends or watches on TV. I can’t speak for what she sees in Europe, but if she is referring to the United States, I need someone to explain it to me! What I saw in EVERY event at the U.S. Championships was truly inspiring. I was proud to have been a witness to more great performances and well-choreographed programs than I have ever seen in a single event. That being said...
We have a big disconnect. We rely too heavily on what we read. Many of us read Phil Hirsch, Nancy Armour or Christine Brennan—and some actually enjoy reading what they write. But when they keep writing things like ‘bring back Tonya Harding,’ or ‘there are no stars in skating,’ all it does is encourage our fans to change the channel. What really got me going was watching press row during the events in Spokane. During the Original Dance event, at the conclusion of Meryl and Charlie’s program, press row emptied out. That wouldn’t be a problem if there weren’t seven more teams left to skate. Marie Milliken of Associated Press was the only writer to watch every skater in every event. How can the rest of these writers describe skaters and programs that they didn’t even watch? Phil Hirsch himself writes about the great bike trails he rode while in Spokane. Was he there on vacation or to cover the U.S. Championships?
Maybe if they were paying attention they could have broken the storm that rumbled over Johnny Weir’s costume. I googled “Johnny Weir fox costume” and had 320,000 hits; the guy can’t get a break. Evan’s costume had feathers on it. Is the difference being real or fake? Regardless, Johnny had this to say following his decision to change the fur; “I hope these activists can understand that my decision to change my costume is in no way a victory for them, but a draw. I am not changing in order to appease them, but to protect my integrity and the integrity of the Olympic Games as well as my fellow competitors.” Bravo Johnny! Plus two on the GOE!
A second costume hullabaloo involved the Russian dance team of Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin whose tribute to Australian Aborigines at the European Championships created a stir. Their original dance to Australian Aboriginal music, they performed it wearing brown face, tribal paint and costumes with clumps of faux foliage. Thank the lord that they went with “faux” foliage or we could have added Tree Huggers of America to the list of offended.
And then the avalanche. Evgeni Plushenko, the defending Olympic champion, was quoted as saying, “If the judges want someone to place high, they can arrange it. Like (at the European championships) in Tallinn, (France’s) Brian Joubert got more points for his transitions than me, although we did exactly the same transitions on the ice. In fact, we don’t have any transitions because we focus on our jumps.” In response, American judge Joe Inman forwarded the quote to a group of friends, writing: “I find this an interesting observation of his own skating and the judges’ marking of his transitions.” I can only assume the e-mail fast-forwarded beyond the intended group as Toronto’s The Globe and Mail referred to the e-mail and reported that there is a “North American bias against European figure skaters.”
In response to The Globe and Mail article, French skating federation president, Didier Gailhaguet told French sports magazine, L’Equipe, “It just proves that the North American lobby is on its way.” Huh? What the heck does that mean? What a ludicrous statement from someone with no credibility. Wasn’t Gailhaguet suspended for his role in the judging controversy at the Salt Lake Games? Isn’t he part of the reason we have this new judging system? And then making matters worse, Mr. Weir had to weigh in on the controversy. Following is the direct quote by Johnny on USA Today online:
Weir joined the chorus of criticism after his first practice, saying, “I am very offended that an American judge started this whole thing. I think it’s a smear on my face and my reputation as an American figure skater and I hope he’s banned from judging for the rest of his life. Coming into the Olympic Games, America already has an iffy public image and for him to basically attack every other skater in the world …
“Even though he did that trying to support American skaters, it’s my reputation. Am I going to be judged differently because of what some stupid American judge did? Because I’m an American, am I going to be judged more harshly than somebody else? It wasn’t the time or the place. Politics in figure skating isn’t an abnormal thing but you don’t do it and smear your team a week before the Olympic Games.”
In all respect, Mrs. Weir, I have to give Johnny a minus three on that one. First off, I don’t believe that Joe Inman started anything. He made a personal observation, one that many would point out. Second, if Johnny is worried about his “reputation as an American figure skater,” maybe he shouldn’t have worn a Russian warm-up jacket during an event. Third, “I hope he’s banned from judging for the rest of his life”… not even the villains from Salt Lake were banned for life. Four, “…basically attack every other skater in the world…” How did Johnny get that from “…an interesting observation of his own skating…” Actually, that’s a minus four for the first paragraph alone.
So, let me total up the scorecard… Johnny is sitting at a minus two for this column! I had great hopes for him as I began this editorial . I guess the moral of the story is that we are who we are and we should learn to celebrate our own unique personalities. In this case, I wish Johnny had followed Jeremy Abbott’s lead. When asked about the e-mail controversy by USA Today, he said he had heard about it but didn’t know any details. But that isn’t Johnny and unfortunately as I spoke earlier, what we have is a “big disconnect.” We are reacting to sound bites and online media, not getting all our facts straight before opening our mouths. I just pray the next time someone sticks their foot in their mouth, they’re not wearing skates.